2013-10-29

Simple Entity Framework Model Structure

I'll say right up front, I don't have a lot of experience with Entity Framework, and this could either be a well-known solution or a completely foolish one. All I know is that, so far, it has worked extremely well for my purposes.

Coming from the Java world, I'm used to using DAO's to serve as an abstraction layer between the controllers and the database, with the basic CRUD methods, plus additional methods for any specific queries needed for a given entity type.

Conveniently, entity framework provides a fairly complete DAO in the form of DbSet. DbSet is very easy to work with, and provides full CRUD functionality, and acts as a proxy for more complex queries. I wanted to keep queries out of my logic, however, and in the model.

Looking at it, I didn't want to have to write an entire wrapper for DbSet, and subclassing it seemed like asking for trouble. That's when it occurred to me to use extension methods for queries. It turns out you can define extension types against a generic type with a type argument specified (e.g. this IEnumerable). This not only allowed me to abstract out the queries and keep them in the model, without having to wrap or subclass anything; but by defining the extensions on IEnumerable instead of DbSet, I have access to my queries on any collection of the appropriate entity type, not just DbSet. I can then chain my custom queries in a very intuitive and fluid way, keeping all of the code clean, simple, and separate.

For example, I have a table of tags. I've created extension methods on IEnumerable to filter to tags used by a given user, and to filter by tags starting with a given string. I can chain these to get tags used by a given user and starting with a given string. I can also use these queries on the list of tags associated with another entity, as IList implements IEnumerable, and thus inherits my query extension methods.

I don't know if this is the best way - or even a good way - but it's worked for me so far. I do see some possible shortcomings; mainly, the extensions don't have access to the context, so they can't query any other DbSets, only the collection it's called against. This means that only explicit relationships can be queried against, which hasn't been a roadblock so far in my (admittedly simple) application. I'm not sure this is really a drawback though - you can still add a parameter to pass in an IEnumerable to query against, which again offers the flexibility to pass a DbSet or anything else.
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